For disabled, a costly lift

Brian Parks, owner of Medicab, a non-emergency transportation service in Missoula, says he's faced increases in the last several years in the costs of fuel, taxes, payroll, workers' compensation insurance premiums and vehicle maintenance, while his rates have stayed the same. "In order to stay in business and serve the needs of the community, we have to finally have an increase," he says.

The proposed hike will be between 46 and 483 percent. In late August, Medicab applied for the rate increase with the Montana Public Service Commission, which regulates motor carriers in the state. The commission is reviewing the justification for the increase and should make a decision in the coming weeks, according to Commissioner Gail Gutsche, of Missoula.

Medicab, the only cab company in town with lift-equipped vehicles to accommodate wheelchairs, hasn't increased its rates since 2003. It charges a flat rate of $9 for trips of up to 15 miles. Parks's proposal would nix the flat rate and charge customers based on distance, so rates would increase more for longer trips.

The increases wouldn't apply to customers on Medicaid, who make up a significant portion of Medicab's clientele. "There's a big need in this community for people on Medicaid to be taken to and from their appointments," Parks says. "We do that—but we also have to accept the rate of pay for Medicaid, which isn't very good."

Medicab has had to absorb the Medicaid rate for too long, Parks argues, adding that he's now forced to pass those costs onto non-Medicaid clients.

"We're looking at a very small percentage of people that this is going to affect," Parks says "It's not going to affect them any more than what Green Taxi or Yellow Cab is already charging."

Mike Mayer of Missoula's Summit Independent Living Center, which advocates on behalf of disabled Montanans, says he's not so sure. "I'm afraid if [Parks] raises his rates to that extent it will price a lot of people right out," Mayer says, "because often, poverty and disability go hand in hand."

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